church, cultural issues, ministry, spiritual, stories

Where Are All the Women?

As a writer and as a person, I like stories. I don’t really like conflict and controversy and issues. So here’s some stories about an issue that’s been on my mind lately.

Scene One. I was recently tasked with drafting a list of 25-75 “Christian thought and culture leaders” to invite to a film screening. Think worship & arts pastors, youth & young adults ministers, writers, executive directors, board presidents, a couple seminary professors, and so on. Influential people. The “cool kids” of local Christian leadership. As I brainstormed and browsed websites and built an invite list, I couldn’t help but notice: my leader list contained 30 people…and only 1 woman (you go Glen Coco). I shouldn’t have been surprised. But the 30:1 ratio stared at me so starkly that I was still taken aback. It told me that maybe I too have somewhere around a 1 in 30 chance of engaging robustly in Christian leadership. It told me that maybe the men around me — whose teaching, preaching, and counsel I often cherish dearly, to be clear — have somewhere around a 29 in 30 chance. I didn’t know what to think except that maybe I should change my name like women-writers in the 19th century (and even in the 21st — I’m pretty sure that’s how J.K. Rowling got started, after all).

Scene Two. The next day, at a church event, the young adults minister announced a wonderful upcoming event involving a panel discussion on the topic of body image. The panel, he said, would consist of a few of our parish priests (all of whom happen to be male). I asked the young adults minister if he expected to have a female perspective on the upcoming panel — especially considering the unique ways that body image can affect men and women. The answer: no, he hadn’t considered that. Facepalm.

[Soliloquy: The panel ended up with a 50% female representation and 50% male. It brought joy to my little egalitarian heart.]

Scene Three. The next day, I went to a women’s Bible study, where we were discussing the beatitudes one by one, week by week. That week’s topic: meekness. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the kingdom of God. We talked about the tricky truth that meekness doesn’t necessarily equal weakness. That pacifism doesn’t equal passivity. That the meekness of Christ doesn’t call us to fearfully allow ourselves to be walked on (as we sometimes have been, complete with plenty of real-life examples shared around the table that night) but to lovingly choose to lay down our lives in service to God and to others as all women and men of Christ are ultimately called to do.

End scenes.

At this point, needless to say, I felt angry — blood boiling, skin searing kind of anger. Righteous anger I think. Sad anger that says, “Something is wrong with the world around me. And, oh, how I wish I could fix it.”

I realize so many women and men have already felt this anger, have been hurt and held back by it, and have taken steps in their various fields to start fixing it. In my field of ministry and writing and writing-about-ministry, I think of Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Carolyn Custis James, Jory Micah, and Jackie Roese — to name only a few.

But this anger is surprisingly new to me, perhaps because I’m rather young and idealistic and got to grow up with strong parents who told me I could accomplish anything I want to accomplish. And they’re right, I think. I can. With work and perseverance and coffee and community and God’s help, I can. But it will be harder than I ever realized in some ways that I never realized.

As for what to do about all this, I don’t have much of an answer yet. In fact, the closest thing I have to an answer is a question: “Where are all the women?” We must keep asking this.

And if the answer is they’re not here, then here’s what we do: Men, invite us. Women, show up.

Please. For God’s sake. For the sake of His kingdom come and His full, whole, come-to-the-table will be done. And for the sake of my blood pressure.

3 thoughts on “Where Are All the Women?”

  1. I always saw it in terms of a sports analogy; the women are in the stands, not allowed to participate in the game but expected to cheer on the players. The players are almost entirely men, with maybe one exceptional women who is clearly nothing like all the ordinary women expected to watch from the stands. Now so many men have been told that they shouldn’t be doing the same thing that women do, so the men who can’t play the game don’t bother to show up except for some that are really faithful to the game. Meanwhile, just as many women are tired of the same old song and dance and aren’t having anything to do with church anymore. What must be done is that we need to change the rules: all hands on deck, every player on the field, nobody sidelined or watching from the stands, and change the message about men this, women that; it’s only holding back the game.

  2. It really hurts my heart to have discovered this issue recently. I grew up in the Presbyterian church, which has been ordaining women since the 19th century. My great grandmother met my great grandfather because they were both doctors on medical mission in India. Up until three years ago, every church I’ve ever attended had approximately equal numbers of male and female pastors. So, about three years ago, when we moved and chose a new church, it never even dawned on me to consider their stance on women preaching/leading as one of our decision criteria.

    What a mistake. The result was three years of the most profound spiritual starvation I have ever experienced (see ). Call it “complementarianism” or whatever you want, but it’s just fancy words for plain old-fashioned sexism. There are so many ways that “The Church” in our times appears to be self-destructing, from “over-produced” services more about “the show” than the gospel, to all the theological issues of selective legalism and ungrace. Yet the power of the true gospel cannot be gainsaid. You referenced Sarah Bessey— I love the picture she has sometimes painted of the ragtag fugitives among us who, if we are denied “a seat at the table”, will simply make our way out into the wilderness together and sit at our own table, drinking deep together of the love and redemption of Jesus. I think that is probably closer to the kind of church Jesus had in mind anyway.

    Blessings to you, and thanks for the post.

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